You know what your parents are afraid of, once you, a blissful idiot, announce your intentions to become an actor?

They are afraid of people taking advantage of your naivete. They are afraid of their progeny becoming a depressed, sullen, out-of-touch adult who is still working a minimum wage job with no direction. They are afraid they are going to run into their friends at the grocery store and when the small talk turns to “What are the kids up to,” they will get to you and have to say, “Trying to be an actor, I guess.”

I say that because I frequently recognize this embarrassment-by-proxy phenomenon in which the non-actors or artists in an actor or artist’s life feel sheepishly compelled to defend her, because how can she not know the odds of her success rival those of becoming an astronaut? Is she really that stupid? Where did they go wrong?

But you know, lots of people who wanted to be astronauts become scientists who change the world. Lots of them have careers in the field, even if they never leave the atmosphere. Others find something else they’d rather do, and live happy lives. They tried. They learned.

A fantastic illustration of this reality is a jewel of a documentary called That Guy… Who Was In That Thing. (It’s on Netflix. You’re welcome.)

Sixteen "character actors" talk about their lives & careers, and the reality of Hollywood.
Sixteen “character actors” talk about their lives & careers, and the reality of Hollywood. This is also where I thank my boyfriend for making me watch this movie.

You will recognize all sixteen of the actors in this film. They talk about their successes, their abject failures, and how they are definitely not stars but have all forged successful careers. One talks about destroying his TV in a fit of desperation-induced rage after being out of work for so long that he had to sell everything in his apartment and start taking the bus again after his car got repossessed–all after years of steady work dried up.

Željko Ivanek.
Željko Ivanek.

They talk about dry spells of a year or more. About the pain of auditioning. Of  every role being “an endlessly fillable hole” of actors. They talk about loving their careers.

If you want an idea of what an actor’s life actually looks like, this is a pretty good picture. Of course, Chicago is quite a different ballgame than Los Angeles, and there are no women in this film, so perhaps my experience thus far is pretty different. But the principles are the same. These guys are actors.  They’re not on magazine covers, but they have careers. Show business is a business. These guys have careers that I aspire to.

I suppose what I’m learning here in Chicago is that it’s possible to keep busy. And yes, I do still have a day job. It’s going to be a while before I can say I don’t, probably. But rather than depressing me, That Guy… Who Was In That Thing made me feel better. It kind of took the edge off my fear of failure, which is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately.

I  may not make it to outer space, and that’s okay. I just want to be in the field.